Monday, December 3, 2012

Random Secession Thoughts

One of the topics that has been commented on recently in a variety of media is the number of petitions that have appeared at the "We the People" website the Obama administration operates following the November election asking that states be allowed to peacefully secede from the US and be an independent country.  There is now a petition asking permission to secede for each of the 50 states.  The number of signatures appearing on the petitions varies from state to state.  In the cartogram to the left, the size of the state reflects the number of signatures on that state's petition(s) for secession as of the middle of November.  A disproportionate share of the signatures are attached to the petitions for the red-shaded states in the southeast portion of the country [1].

Marc Herman has written a column giving people who want to have their state secede suggestions for how to mount a successful campaign.  Writing as someone who wants to have a particular piece of the US secede somewhere down the road [2] -- waiting until the time is ripe means more than 25 years out, less than 50 -- I think a few of his suggestions are good: make good economic arguments and avoid violence, for example.  One of the points Marc doesn't make is that on the side that's seceding, you need to be able to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population.  The American colonies had proponents of the revolution in both agricultural Virginia and industrial Massachusetts.  Given the timing of the petitions and all of the internet chatter, it seems safe to assume that the petitions represent "red" voters' displeasure with President Obama's reelection.  Let's see whether "unhappiness with the President's platform" meets the requirement for relatively broad support.

I'll use Georgia as an example of the problem that a secessionist would face.  Since the subject is approval/disapproval of the President's platform, start by considering the standard red-blue map of Georgia done at the county level.  Overall the state is predominantly red.  In a previous posting about cartograms, I noted (as have many, many others) that area isn't the same as people.  Moving down the maps, the red-blue cartogram in the next figure has scaled the counties by the number of votes cast for President last month.  The thing that really jumps out is the enormous expansion of the Atlanta metro area.  Outside of Atlanta the cartogram shows a lot of very small red counties and a smaller number of generally larger blue counties.  In short, President Obama appears to have done generally better in the more urban areas than he did in the rural areas.

The situation is even more interesting when we replace the simple red-blue coloring scheme with one that uses different shades of purple to represent the relative performance of the two candidates.  That is, a county in which President Obama received all of the votes would be blue, a county where Governor Romney received all the votes would be red, and one in which they split the vote evenly would be purple.  When you step back and look at this, the picture that emerges is one with urban areas in varying shades of purple, surrounded by much redder rural areas.  My interpretation (and as they say, your mileage may vary) is that there are thinly-populated rural areas where voters are strongly opposed to President Obama's platform, and urban areas where that platform has much stronger support -- a majority of voters in several sizable (by population) counties.

For someone who is serious about building a secession movement around dissatisfaction with the President, this is a problem.  The final gray-scale cartogram illustrates the aspect of the problem that I would be most concerned about.  In that map, both the size and the shade reflect the median household income in the county.  Counties with higher incomes are larger and lighter, counties with lower incomes are smaller and darker.  The spread is not nearly as pronounced as in the case of number of voters, but the overall pattern is still clear.  The Atlanta metro area is significantly richer than the rest of the state. This shows up in a number of ways within Georgia's state government.  One that is easy to find is the state's education equalization fund.  Georgia's fund, like that in many states, broadly implements an urban-to-rural subsidy.

The state's wealth (hence power) is concentrated in areas where opposition to the President's platform is not going to be well-received as a cause for secession.  A different cause, one that benefits Atlanta, would be necessary.

[1] The signature counts were as of roughly November 20, 2012.

[2] I don't draw my likely division in the same place that most of the people writing about secession draw theirs either.

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